Thursday, December 17, 2009


Sorry I’ve been so absent for so long. I’d like to be able to say that it’s because I’ve been spending every spare minute at California Family Fitness (or, as I now know the cool kids call it, “CalFit”) working my body back into a semblance of strength, flexibility and endurance. Well, not quite. There have been late days at work and board meetings and hair appointments and whatnot. But I’ve been getting over to CalFit pretty regularly and I have a few things to say about being a member of a gym again.
As a gym person, you feel different. Especially if you’re a gym person who actually goes go the gym from time to time. My perception of myself as a Person Who Works Out inflated to include the capital letters you see before you, and this was just after the first visit. I also became a Person Who Has to Worry About Having Enough Clean Workout Clothes, for the first time in about two and a half years. Sports bras, tops, shorts, socks, swimsuits, towels --- there suddenly seemed to be no end to the things I had to keep clean and dry. I walked a little differently with my gym bag on my shoulder, a little springier, even with the extra weight of all that Stuff.
I had missed the water. Man, how I had missed regular immersion, even in a too-shallow, over-chlorinated lap pool. I even welcomed the once-familiar sensations of leaking goggles and nasal passages stinging from chlorine in places where chlorine was not meant to be. My first lap swim session was slow, with a little rest between every lap, and lots of easy backstroke to catch my breath and try to balance out the load on my shoulders. I could only manage about 600 yards, which used to be less than my warmup, but I was ok with it. With only a couple of sessions a week I’ve already made it up to 1200 yards, and once I can do 1500 again without feeling like my arms will drop off I’ll start working a bit on going faster. Right now I’m just trying to feel symmetrical in the water, working on breathing to either side with equal ease, keeping my elbows high and my head low, rotating with each stroke. All the old stuff.
One chilly, windy evening I decided to take an indoor cycling class, “X-bike (i),” as the flavor of the month is called. The “X” is for the work that you do with your arms on these funny stationary bikes with a movable handlebar unit. It’s not much “X” if you ask me, but it’s a new gimmick. I got to class a bit late, and the lights were down low, with club-style black lights were flashing everywhere. Fitness through disorientation? My cycling socks glowed in the dark whenever the black lights passed over them. The music was pounding and an impossibly fit woman was on one of these funny bikes up on the platform. I hastily arranged my bike and jumped on. Not surprisingly, it was hard for me to keep up with some of the “climbing” bits, since I’ve always kind of sucked at climbing, especially standing up. And now I’ve lived in a pancake flat river valley for a year and a half.

But I pedaled along the best I could, cranking up the resistance when it felt ok, backing off when I got too puffed. I didn’t die in there. I want to do it again tomorrow, even. And afterward (it was a short class), I got out and did some crunches, some planks, some “swimmers” with resistance bands, and some curls and presses, so it was a real “X” workout that left me pleasantly sore the next day.
I still need to get to the point where getting over to the gym feels like a need instead of a pleasant option, but at least it feels pleasant.

Shopping for Gyms

In my ongoing quest to spend ever more money in pursuit of fitness and well-being, I joined a gym last week. The undertaking to unite oneself with a gym in holy fitrimony is a serious commitment, and not one to be approached lightly. In the end, though, it's often about the gut over the head.

I did my research with my usual diligence, that is to say, I sat in the Big Poofy Chair and used the internet. At least at first. I read reviews of about five health clubs on Yelp, CitySearch, and a other places where people spout off. Unfortunately, people tend to spout off a lot more frequently about restaurants and hair salons than they do about gyms. Still, I was able to rule out three options. The YMCA, which would have been my first choice because of its non-profitness and inclusivity, was out. Indoor pool, nasty old building, semi-funky part of town. Alhambra - not close enough, not interesting enough. Capitol - sounded spendy and a bit meat-market-y.

The two front-runners that emerged were the Natomas Racquet Club, which is about two miles from my house, and California Family Fitness, about four miles away. Natomas had several advantages: proximity to the house and no need for freeways; a nice big lap pool; and a Masters swimming program that could help me boost my aquatic prowess to previously unheard-of levels. CFF reviewers cited its brand-spankin' newness, uncrowded pool, uncrowded every kind of equipment imaginable, and schweet locker rooms.

I set out on a Saturday afternoon at about 4:30 to do field research. Natomas Racquet Club didn’t have anyone available to talk to me about membership or take me on a tour of the facilities, nor would the guy at the desk let me work out on a trial basis. Strike one. He did let me wander around on my own, and I saw the usual collection of equipment, fitness studio, racquetball court and so on. The pool was indeed nice and big, and the grounds of the club sported lawns and trees and picnic tables. But the locker room was kind of small, the showers no nicer than my old YMCA in Mountain View, and my overall impression was that the place was in need of renovation and, as the name implied, heavily focused on the tennis set.

A couple of exits up the freeway I found CFF looming over the strip malls, trimmed with neon and looking unappealing, frankly. But there was easy parking and the friendly desk folks told me that Larry would be right with me to show me around and talk about membership. I lounged on the leather couch by the snack bar and watched the flat screen TV as I waited. Not bad, I thought.

The whole place was sparkling clean, and despite its name, completely devoid of children (a plus). Acres of cardio and weight machines, free weights, exercise balls, and mats covered most of two floors. The indoor cycling studio held 50 bikes, and the aerobics room was massive. The outdoor lap pool was smaller than NRC’s (6 lanes vs. 8), but it was totally empty. There was also an indoor aqua aerobics and general use pool, which meant that the lap pool was all laps, all the time. A huge plus. The Jacuzzi looked big and hot, with reasonably powerful jets. Larry sent me in to tour the locker room, and there my decision was essentially made.

The real estate crowd says that bathrooms sell houses, and CFF had clearly transferred this adage to the gym. Glass tile accents in the showers, faux burlwood finished lockers with electronic keypad locks, flat panel TVs in the locker bays, modern looking sinks, and new paint and fixtures everywhere. It looked like HGTV had swept through and done a makeover.

I sat down with Larry and pretended to negotiate, and took a few days to “think about it,” but I was hooked. Even though CFF might be a little tough to get to at rush hour and I have to provide my own towels, I smile every time I look at those glass tile accents in the shower.

I’ve been to the pool a few times since that initial tour, and I’m still in the honeymoon stage. Happy to be in the water, happy to be a person who belongs to the gym, happy with the electronic locker technology.